Sustainability and the self

Recently, sustainability has been associated a lot to a green economy, an economy that is CO2 neutral up to CO2 negative. A CO2 neutral economy can happen, if carbon is captured during the production, usetime and end of life of a product. Most efficient are therefore products that are made from biological materials only, like a bamboo straw. A bamboo straw can be cut of the original bamboo plant, dried, treated, sold and used. The CO2 print hereby varies between CO2 negative up to positive, depending on the treatment, shipments and other processes involved.

The real CO2 print becomes more difficult for products that are processed heavily and consist of multiple product components like a shoe or jacket or many other basic products like hair dye and toys for kids. Many of these products consist of synthetic materials or materials that do not biodigrade at the end of their life. To make these products more ecological or more specific CO2 – sustainable, different type of processes might be used or product materials might be replaced with others i.e. plastic toys with wood toys.

So much stuff to rent. Why actually?

Regardless of the business model, consumption often continues to be promoted. Such an example is a “sustainable” business model in which consumers are encouraged to buy an ecological product such as a bamboo straw, but do not know whether the bamboo is harvested in respect to its necessarily growth time. Another example is a buisness model that makes you want to rent or lease products, although you never needed them before to begin with (i.e. expensive clothes or toys).

Why should the self be more recognized in the current sustainability agenda?

The self-concept is a general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself.

Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition:

“The individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes and who and what the self is”.

Carl Rogers (1959) believes that the self-concept has three different components:

• The view you have of yourself (self-image)

• How much value you place on yourself (self-esteem or self-worth)

• What you wish you were really like (ideal-self)

The impact of consumption on the self

Regardless, why or what we consume, it often relates to us – of course it does, since we consume it. However, media, advertisment etc. often distracts us from our true self and therefore encourage a desire to take on an identity by consuming something that does not reflect our true self. Our attention shifts towards a “fictive ideal-self”. An example is wanting to look like a celebrity , someone on advertisment, etc and therefore buying new clothes, dying hair or buying a product to align more with the desired persons’ trait. However, we are not that person, we are ourselves. We will never be that person and likewise, that person will never be us.

Desire for the fictive ideal supports a society less satisfied

Often, we are influenced by media, by friends, culture and societys’ expectations how we should be, what we should do, how we should look like and how we should behave. Many impulses that distract us from who we really are and want to be. Impulses that often lead to greater levels of dissatsifaction as we struggle to think about whether what we have and how we are is enough, or if we don’t need more or changes to be fullfilled.

After the point of consumption , and once realized that the image we created with the idea of the fictive ideal of us, stopped satisfying, the cycle of consumption, re-enters. In addition, other mental health problems might arise, because an image created does not align with the image of one-self. Think about advertisement that rewards or promotes white-caucasion skin types or even hollywood that (can) promote cultural stereotypes. What happens is that a society is created that does not thrive, but a society with wish-full thinking that imagines to thrive with a product that supports an idenittiy or part of it not true to themselves. That can happen, when buying or renting or changing something, that does not actually make happy.

An example is advertisement that illustrates a white rich man with a huge house and a loving wife. The image might create the perception that because of his white skin, a demanding job and a huge house his wife loves him. Because of that, one with darker skin might want to have whiter skin, wants to buy a house etc. In doing so the connection to the real-self gets lost and in doing so also the opportunity to identify success and happinnes for themselves (small job, free time, happinness to attract happinnes)

How can the true self be promoted more in the current sustainability agenda?

Feet are made for walking, jackets made for protection, blankets used to protect from cold, hair care products made to nurture them, body cream to make our skin less dry, to protect it. Food is made to keep us healthy, to connect us to others. Other products are made for comfort, help us sleep, help to support us. Many products weren’t made to sell a look or an image, but because of a fundamental function they support(ed).

A sustainability society or a sustainable industrial agenda, therefore needs to emphasize more to promote functionality over an image sold and a society that allowes for the production of healthy products, that are kept and not consumed to be trashed. This is possible if the self is satisfied with what it consumes. Therefore, products should provide a supporting function, align with the consumers true feelings and desires and likewise be accessible to a wide range of customers i.e. through product/market targeted business models (i.e. rental of healthy product to students, elderlies etc.). Doing so will allow society to thrive, be more happy, be more inclusive and to create an ideal image of the self, while also saving much of that CO2 .

Who cares whether you have bold or gray hair? Imagine time spent worrying , money spend on hair dressors vs. time spend on something fun and money spend to support that fun activity 😀

Resources/ Inspirations

Delmas, M. A., & Burbano, V. C. (2011). The drivers of greenwashing. California management review54(1), 64-87.

Fein, S., & Spencer, S. J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of personality and Social Psychology73(1), 31.

Frosh, S. (1991). Identity crisis: Modernity, psychoanalysis and the self. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Levänen, J., Uusitalo, V., Härri, A., Kareinen, E., & Linnanen, L. (2021). Innovative recycling or extended use? Comparing the global warming potential of different ownership and end-of-life scenarios for textiles. Environmental Research Letters16(5), 054069.

Muller, J. (1985). Lacan’s mirror stage. Psychoanalytic Inquiry5(2), 233-252.

Velenturf, A. P., & Purnell, P. (2021). Principles for a sustainable circular economy. Sustainable Production and Consumption27, 1437-1457.

Emotions and Assumptions

Often a sentence is said or a statment is made that leads to frustration. Frustration as a “feeling” is of course okay. Likewise frustration can become a barrier if the feeling of it remains, if it is dealt with in silence and is later expressed in ways of anger. Anger then can become expressed in indirect ways such as gossip , withdrawl from work, dissatisfaction or loss of motivation. Anger can also be expressed in direct ways such as by making a statement very personal and likewise becoming very defensive or even insulting. Regardless of whether anger is internalized and indirectly or directly expressed, suppresing it and not being able to address what has been said and how one felt about it likely leads to another cascade of unsatisfying feelings and behaviours.

How can one statement create intensive feelings?

We might listen and understand an entire statement that has been made, but at the same time our brain creates a network of hidden messages that lie within each word said and therfore creates an automated desire for responses as another person speaks or writes. Because of that , a neutral statement made, can create an intensive emotional outburst (of coure not always) and therefore feelings of anger and frustration. A statement from a colleque that could be as basic as ” I saw you left home earlier yesterday” could be scandalous.

What do we base assumptions on and why?

Each of us is born and raised as an individual. That means that each of us learned to feel, to behave , to see, to react and to communicate differently. Because of that each brain is wired differently with different neuron-networks that manifast our knowledge and behaviours. This also means that each of us has different feelings and associations with specific words or “cues”. An example is that while someone has happy feelings related to home like “relaxing, cosy, loving, comfortable” someone else might have feelings such as “pressure, unhealthy relationships, colorless, sad”. Likewise, depending on the day, different associations might be made to home and the meaning given to it.

What causes overreaction? Because each of us has different experiences and different associations with a specific word, we can experience what has been said in different emotions. The statement ” I saw you left home earlier yesterday” could lead to a feeling of sadness or anger if the recevier of this message creats negative associations to each word. An example could be that this person needed to leave early in another job because of an emergency “at home” but was criticzed for that. Because of that this statement could re-create feelings of a situation in the past and therefore can cause distress and anger. Likewise another person might have had different or more positive experiences with “leaving early” or “home” and perceives the statement as neutral.

Think about the different x1-x9 being different words or phrases and h1-h9 being different experiences and feelings related to them. Y then represents our final reaction, or assumption that might be misleading to what was meant to begin with.

How can we reduce making assumptions?

  1. Listen carefuly to what has been said and think about what has been said exactly
  2. Think about how this statement made you feel.
  3. Then think about where these feelings are comming from.
  4. Are these feelings based on an experience in the past and if yes, how do they apply to the current situation?
  5. If you are unsure, you can also ask for clarifications and what is meant with a certain question or statement. This helps to see the others persons’ frame and intention can navigate away from previous made assumptions.
  6. Once it is clear what has been said, how your past might have framed you into thinking a specific way, its your time to respond (if you want to).

Is there such a thing as a proper response? There is no accurate way of responding and each response is context related. To me important is to understand your feelings and to communicate in such a way that it makes you feel most comfortable and the other person undertand;

  • If a question or a statement made you feel uncomfortable you can say so. ” I left earlier for personal reasons and prefer not to talk about it.”
  • You may explain why it made you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes this helps to create a mutual understanding. “I feel uncomfortable talking about it, because in the past I left earlier for work for an emergency and I got criticzed for it. I am worried it happens again.”
  • You may also ask for clarifications “Why did you ask me that? What exactly do you mean with that statement or question?”
  • You may also respond freely and express yourself how this question made you feel like ” I left home earlier because my brother needed help. Your question makes me feel …., because ……”

Emotions, assumptions and sustainability?

It is very easy to make assumptions or believe to “know something” based on past experiences (that’s quite natural to human survival), but sometimes we don’t know for sure and because of that engage in unhealthy beahviours. Again, that could be overconsumption, quitting a job or ending a relationship for the wrong reasons, being sad about something for weeks etc. . To understand and to address what we feel and why, can ultimately help us change a situation and create a new frame to benefit from.

Whats a sustainable circular business model? A license plate!

By the end of last year, a group of high school students, aged 15-16 approached me and asked, whether I could support their newly formed school company with 10 Euros. Those 10 Euros symbolized a small share in the company and I joyfully said yes and was excited to become shareholder for the first time in my life. I asked them ” What excactly am I shareholder of and what exactly is this part of ?” ” It is an extracurricular activity, supported from JUNIOR . At JUNIOR, high school students set up their own student company, distribute their products to customers and earn real money. learn what the reality of entrepreneurs looks like – by trying it out for ourselves.” “Super cool! What is your business like?” ” We make products from license plates that aren’t used anymore by their car owners. Our company is called UsedPlates3 – UP3 . ”

Allthough they already hinted into the direction of circularity by highlighting the concept of “waste to value”, little would I know that they would fully develop a sustainable circular business model over the next months. And little would I know how their small business idea would receive growing attention from different German newsoutlets. And most of all was I joyfully amazed, when I heard that their company and efforts had made it as far as to compete in a Germany wide student entrepreneurship competition.

Now, why am I that enthusiastic about their idea? It fully reflects not just a simple circular business model, but also a business model that is sustainable. So what’s a sustainable circular business model? To me that means that it is needs based.

First of all, many people need a car. Nowadays, a car might be almost as important as food. Something we likely cannot say no to, especially if we live rural and need to go to work. Even if we rented a car a la car-sharing, cars would still be needed. And with each car, a licence plate is needed as well. There is almost no expiration date to a licencse plate, yet each licence plate might have an end to its life such as when a car is not needed anymore.

There are of course many more needs based products. Such an example is clothing with the original aim to serve as protection from environmental hazards. However, many clothes nowadays are promoted in such a way that they do not fullfill this basic need anymore solely, but rather support the buying of new clothes that have little functional value. Let’s think of a pink glitter high heel instead of a boot that keeps our feet safe. In addition, fashion trends frequently change, particular by season and again, this encourages consumers to buy more and more, adding to the pile of sustainability disaster, form a social but also ecological perspective.

What purpose or need are these shoes fullfilling?

This differs to a licence plate, which again is needs based and therefore does not promote consumption of a new license plate to begin with. Because of that it is “sustainable” by origin. Now this product is also circular, because it can be transformed into a new product without having to recycle it. Recycling for instance, is linked to the lowest form of circularity, because a lot of energy is used to take materials apart and to transform them. A license plate on the other hand, can stay as it is , and only needs to be shaped into the desired end-product. “Only” to be used careful, because the students still create everything by hand and it takes quite some time.

What’s my favorite catch on their business model? That’s OMG that they had thought about the concept of “emotional durability” in their business model. Emotional durability bascially means that a consumer of a product feels strongly connected and therefore, wants to keep their product for as long as possible. That’s crucial if we talk about product life-cycle extension. What better product is there, than one made of a license plate of a car, with which the owner has experienced so many adventures and spent so much time with? I can’t think of one.

So you guys, your school, JUNIOR and most of all your amazing business UP3 super rock. You win my special sustainable circular business award 🙂 Interested to learn more about the work? Comment or message me and I will connect you.

Bamboo for urban and peri-urban greening? Of course, but…

Today, I visited one of Bali’s small but beautiful Botanical Gardens and decided to move my eye and camera attention a little bit more up than the ususal straight forward. Doing so was truly amazing, because it allowed me to quickly recognize a beautiful canopy cover formed by various tree and plant species – excluding bamboo.

A little later, I entered an area in which only bamboo was growing. I quickly recognized its beautiful canopy cover, but much more dense.

As I thought about the picture I took of the bamboo canopy, I felt it was too dark as new phone screen background, but it also made me remember how important dense canopy covers are;

  • Forest canopies are hotspots of biological diversity, engines of global biochemical processes, and the dynamic interface between organic nature and the atmosphere.
  • A dense canopy cover will let little light reach the ground and will lower temperatures. The canopy protects the ground from the force of rainfall and makes wind force more moderate -> habitat conditions on the ground are shaped by the degree of canopy cover.

With the monsoon rain starting to hit my face and soaking my clothes on my way back, I wondered about the potential of bamboo on the sides of roads (besides one spot that made me really happy and feel dry!). Would it help me and the many other scooter drives to stay more or less dry? Could it be integrated into urban and peri-urban tropical environments? What benefits would bamboo have? What disadvantages would it have?

Besides the biochemical benefits of general canopy cover listed above, here are a few more benefits of trees in urban settings. These likewise apply to bamboo;

  • Removal of pollutants from the air, soil and water
  • Release of water vapor into the atmosphere which cools the surrounding areas, mitigating the urban heat island effect
  • Interception of rainfall and reduction of storm water runoff (and thus, reducing the costs related to infrastructure required to manage it)
  • Energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to shade provided
  • Carbon sequestration

Having lived in Jakarta for now 5 months and having visited Lombok and Bali, I would truly argue pro! bamboo (and trees). The picture below provides the main argument.

Pros’ for bamboo:

  1. The truly dense canopy cover
  2. Its related ability to provide shade and protect drivers as well as pedestrians from rain
  3. Its flexibility
  4. The immense ability to store water
  5. Its root system – very strong and beneficial in areas prone to earthquake – not as deep as tree root system ,

Con’s for bamboo:

  1. Its “invasive” root system if not protected well
  2. The need for proper management, i.e. removal of degrading poles
  3. Eventually its strong leaf fall.

Conclusively, I would argue that there are various benefits for bamboo. In terms of urban and peri-urban settings, its main benefit relate to its strong leaf cover and ability to store and absorb water. Likewise, the canopy cover may be less in areas with strong underground construction and decreasing flexilbity for bamboo growth. This applies more or less to areas (i.e. cities) with less space.

References

Gobron, N. (2012). Leaf Area Index. FAO. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/3/i0197e/i0197e15.pdf

Nakamura, A., Kitching, R. L., Cao, M., Creedy, T. J., Fayle, T. M., Freiberg, M., … & Malhi, Y. (2017). Forests and their canopies: achievements and horizons in canopy science. Trends in ecology & evolution32(6), 438-451.

Trimble, S. (2019). Forest and Plant Canopy Analysis. CID Bio-Science. Retrieved from: https://cid-inc.com/blog/forest-plant-canopy-analysis-tools-methods/